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Cumaru vs. Ipe Wood for Outdoor Decks

Assignment Content

Odds are, unless you work in the furniture and decking business, you might not be familiar with cumaru and ipe wood. Over the years, these two types of wood have found their way into many commercial and residential decks, thanks to several key physical characteristics. Also, they both have some of the lowest overall costs when taking into account the lifetime of a deck. So how do you know which one you should select when designing a deck? Use this guide to help you decide.

What Is Cumaru Wood?


Outdoor Deck in a Residential Neighborhood

Image via Flickr by RentPP M

As a high-density tropical hardwood, cumaru (pronounced KOO-mah-roo) wood is a versatile choice if you’re looking for a quality decking material. Its density, strength, and durability have brought it to the forefront of deck options. Since it’s resistant to decay and rot, cumaru wood makes an excellent choice for a variety of exterior applications. It outlasts other popular types of wood, including cedar, Douglas fir, pine, and redwood.

Cumaru comes from the Dipteryx odorata tree, which is native to Central and northern South America, particularly Brazil. Its natural hardiness and oils ensure that the wood can withstand all types of environments.

What Is Ipe Wood?

Ipe (pronounced EE-pay) wood is an extremely long-lasting wood that can last up to 75 years. This is more than four times as long as most pressure-treated woods. It’s become a popular and inexpensive alternative to teak. This smooth hardwood resembles mahogany in color, although its color can fade unless it is properly maintained.  Just like cumaru, ipe wood has natural hardiness and oils so the wood can last a long time in different environments.

Ipe comes from the Tabebuia tree, which is native to the American tropics, Mexican subtropics, the Caribbean, and Argentina. The wood tends to be sourced from a large geographic area, and because of its popularity, ipe is often illegally harvested. Over the years, the trees have been overharvested, so some designers and environmentally minded people have gravitated toward using different types of wood for that reason. When the wood is grown and harvested responsibly, it gets a stamp of approval from the Forest Stewardship Council, showcased by a label that reads FSC-certified wood.

What Similarities Do Cumaru and Ipe Wood Have?

Many decking manufacturers gravitate toward using either cumaru or ipe since they share several of the same features. Some of these similarities include the following:

  • Density: Both types of wood receive classification as high-density hardwoods. Their high density and natural impermeability mean that they are extremely resistant to fungus and other types of decay.
  • Hardness: The Janka test, also called the high-heel test, is often used to determine the hardness of the wood, and both types of wood receive similar numbers. Cumaru has a hardness of 3,340, while ipe has a hardness of 3,680. During this test, a .444-inch steel ball is placed under enough pressure to imbed it halfway into a piece of wood. Both types of wood are so hard that it takes more than 3,000 pounds of pressure per square inch to make that happen.
  • Natural Resistance to Insects: Thanks to an influx of oils and natural hardiness, these woods have a remarkable resistance to rot and decay. Don’t be surprised to have both types of wood last several decades outside, even during harsh conditions.
  • Scratch Resistance: Both types of wood are highly scratch-resistant, making them popular choices for high-traffic areas, such as walkways and backyard decks.

What Differences Do Cumaru and Ipe Wood Have?

Despite the similarities of cumaru and ipe, you should remember that they’re still two different types of wood, and they each have their own characteristics. If you’re shopping for either type of wood for your decking material, you should be aware of some of these differences.

  • Color: While the two types of wood have a wide range of exotic colors and graining, they do favor certain colors. Use cumaru wood if you want colors in the yellow-brown or reddish-brown hues. Ipe wood tends to range from tan to olive-brown and even sometimes black. In fact, because of these color differences, they’ve earned nicknames, with cumaru known as Brazilian Teak and ipe as Brazilian Walnut.
  • Grain: While both types of wood have stunning exotic graining, ipe has a finer grain appearance. Cumaru has coarser graining.
  • Price: When it comes to pricing, these two types of wood vary in cost. Cumaru typically costs 20 % to 30% less compared to ipe.
  • Shrinkage: Cumaru possesses certain types of instabilities, which can cause parts of it to shrink. So if you use cumaru as your decking material choice, make sure to apply a kiln drying application beforehand. Also, try to avoid using cumaru during the dry season due to shrinkage.

Which Wood Should You Choose?

Ipe and cumaru are two of the strongest hardwoods available, and either would be a solid choice when selecting your decking material. If you’re planning to construct a deck near water, you might want to consider using ipe since cumaru is prone to cupping.

However, if you want wood that requires little maintenance, you should use cumaru, since ipe will turn from dark brown to gray if you don’t properly maintain it. Ipe must have its ends sealed after cutting; otherwise, the moisture level can change and spread throughout the wood. Applying a sealer to fresh cuts can slow down the process and prevent splitting. If you’re still undecided, you can also choose an alternative to both types of wood, including reclaimed teak, which is less dense, making installation easier and more affordable.

Selecting the best type of wood for your deck can be a tough decision, but you can’t go wrong with either cumaru or ipe wood. If you need further assistance, reach out to Teak Master. We have years of experience working with wood selection and restoration for decks and wooden furniture, so we can keep your investment looking as good as it can for years to come. Contact us today, and one of our knowledgeable team members will get in touch with you.


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